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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)


Can’t give anyone authority. Especially college bros.

In the 1970’s, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment that would forever have his name, as well as the study, remain in infamy and controversy. In the study, a handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “prisoners”, whereas another handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “guards”. Both groups were to simulate a prison in which the guards would treat the prisoners, just as guards would treat prisoners in any real life, day-to-day situation; they would pick-on, torment, toy, tease and punish the prisoners for doing whatever it is that they did, or basically, didn’t do. Because the guards are encouraged to go as far as they can without physically beating the hell out of any of the prisoners, most of the prisoners would tend to act-out and rebel a bit, even if they knew, in all honesty, it wasn’t going to do them any good. Watching all of this transpire, Zimbardo looks to find out why it is that people, when given the position of power, use it to their advantage and act the way they do, and why it is that the prisoners who are being powered-over, don’t fight back or ever question, “why?”.

"Lookin' at something, fellow former-child star?"

“Lookin’ at something, fellow former-child star?”

Movies like the Stanford Prison Experiment are very lucky that everything that they depict, are basically what happened. While the movie states that it is, “based on a true events”, for the most part, it actually is; there’s a few bits of dramatic licensing taken here, most of which, are incredibly obvious and a bit unnecessary. However, everything that seems to be shown in the film, actually appears to have happened and is one of the main reasons why such a study as this still stays in people’s discussions, even after 44 years of it actually being performed. But the main reason why people like us, you know, millenials and hipsters and whatnot, are still talking about this social experiment is because, well, it will always stay relevant, no matter what happens to the world around us.

For instance, what the social experiment, as well as the movie itself, brings up about humans is how, when we’re given just a little bit of power or control in our grubby paws, we will, mostly, run wild with it and take absolute advantage of every second we’re granted security of that strength. Others, of course, will say to themselves, “Ah, who cares. Everybody’s equal, so why should it matter who is considered ‘better’ than others?”, but really, it’s the opposite side of the coin that’s perhaps the most disturbing and thought-about position that really makes a social experiment like this ring so true.

And yeah, the experiment itself, is also basically why the Stanford Prison Experiment works as well as it does.

Because it’s focused solely on the actual study itself – one that was already tense, unpredictable and compelling to begin with – it would only serve it justice to give the movie based off of its events, the same treatment. That a solid portion of the movie takes place in one, narrow hallway, already puts director Kyle Patrick Alvarez in a bit of a tough position where he needs to keep things exciting, but at the same time, not go too overboard with it. Rather than trying to make sense of some of these character’s decisions or choices, no matter how questionable they may get, he just shines a light up to them and lets them tell their own stories. Obviously, there are certain situations and predicaments that occur here that are a bit over-the-top, but still, there’s a ringing sense of truth throughout that works and keeps the movie engaging, even when it seems to be just the same thing happening, over and over again.

But like I said before, the reason why this experiment is still so talked about, is because it puts you, yourself, in the position of these people and make you wonder one thing: What would you do? Had you been put into the position of the guard, would you have just not cared, gone through the motions, and just be around to accept your money when all was said and done? Or, would you savor this moment, piss the “prisoners” off, basically torture them every step you get, and constantly remind them of who is in-charge, while at the same time, driving them slowly, but surely, crazy?

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

And hell, while we’re at it, what would you do as a prisoner? Would you just take it all, keep it all to yourself, and constantly remind yourself that “this is just an experiment”? Or, would you go crazy and try your absolute hardest to get the hell out of said “prison”, as soon as possible, by any means necessary? The movie, just like the experiment itself, brings these questions up, doesn’t know whether to answer the questions or not, but instead, just let them make a point for themselves.

In ways, you don’t know how people would act when thrown into these positions, which is what makes the Stanford Prison Experiment all the more shocking.

Though, there is something to be said for the later-part of the movie where it becomes clear that this experiment may have gone a tad too long, and all we’re doing is waiting around and watching as a bunch of young adults, torture and play around with other young adults. While we know that a fine amount of what’s depicted here in the film, actually did happen, by this point, when the two-hour mark has been well hit, it starts to become like overkill where we understand what the movie is trying to say, but can’t help itself from going further and further. This is less of a problem with the actual experiment itself, and more of on the movie, but still, it goes without saying that there’s only so much pain one can consume over a certain amount of time.

Which is, once again, probably something to be said about humans and makes me trust everybody a whole lot less.

Consensus: Thought-provoking, tense and somewhat enraging, the Stanford Prison Experiment takes an infamous study, gives it the nonjudgmental light it deserves, and allows for us, the audience, to think about what they’d all do in the same situation.

8 / 10 

It's like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody's getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

It’s like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody’s getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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3 responses to “The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

  1. Brittani January 12, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve had this on my must see list all of last year, and I’m getting it from Netflix today. Great review. I can’t wait to see it.

  2. Dude the cleaner January 13, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    The german movie from 2001 ‘Das Experiment’ with Moritz Bleibtreu and the american remake from 2010 movie ‘The Experiment’ with Adrien Brody and Forrest Whitaker are also based on the ‘Stanford experiment’. I have not see the german film yet, but i have seen the experiment. Nice review I do not know if it is coming to my country yet. If it does I will go see it. Nice review.

  3. Evan Crean February 3, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    I was already familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment, so I also recognized that the movie basically just recounts what happens. And I think that’s what took some of the piss out of it for me. I felt like the movie was slow going and although it was brutal, none of the brutality shocked me or moved me. It seemed like Zimbardo shut the thing down because it was the right thing to do, not because he was actually emotionally compelled to. I thought the movie’s use of interviews from after the fact was interesting. I would have liked to see more of that than actual recounting of the incident.

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